LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The Los Angeles Times is being sold to a local billionaire for $500 million, ending its strained tenure under the owner of the Chicago Tribune.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is a major shareholder of Chicago’s Tronc Inc., one of the richest men in Los Angeles and, according to Forbes, the nation’s wealthiest doctor, with a net worth of $7.8 billion.
The announcement Wednesday means that for the first time in 18 years the Times will be under local ownership.
The surprise deal will include the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, along with $90 million in pension liabilities, according to the Times. Tronc, touted as a the digital spinoff of Tribune Co., had previously fended off efforts to buy The Times and had insisted it was one of the premiere publications in a portfolio that also included the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Orlando Sentinel and The Baltimore Sun.
Soon-Shiong takes over in a time of turmoil at the paper. The Times just replaced its top editor, the third switch at the position in the newsroom in six months. Publisher Ross Levinsohn had been on unpaid leave after revelations that he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits elsewhere. Tronc announced Wednesday that Levinsohn has been cleared of any wrongdoing and would be reinstated as CEO of its newly reorganized Tribune Interactive division.
Journalists voted last month to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.
Clashes between The Los Angeles Times and Tribune Co. erupted not long after it acquired the West Coast paper in 2000. Staff at the Times bristled over what it considered a string of bad decisions made from hundreds of miles away in Chicago.
The editor of The Los Angeles Times, John Carroll, who led the paper to 13 Pulitzer Prizes, resigned under heavy pressure to cut staff. Before he left, he asked an old friend and billionaire philanthropist if he would consider buying the paper.
Publisher John Puerner stepped down at the Times, as did his successor, Jeffrey Johnson, shortly after.
Dean Baquet, who took over for Carroll, left after 15 months. He is now the executive editor at The New York Times.
The sale of The Los Angeles Times is in keeping with one of two trends in media ownership: big companies getting bigger and wealthy investors taking on newspapers as philanthropic endeavors.
In 2013, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry bought the Boston Globe for $70 million.
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